North Miami police chief resigns

North Miami Police Chief Marc Elias, who was criticized for charging the city thousands of dollars for seven trips he took to Haiti, has resigned from his position, a city spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Elias and City Manager Stephen Johnson agreed to an “amicable conclusion to his service,” city spokeswoman Pam Solomon said in a press release.

Solomon did not have a reason for Elias’ departure, and Johnson did not return several calls from the Miami Herald.

Vice Mayor Scott Galvin said Johnson told him Monday that the chief had chosen to resign and that his resignation letter was on the way.

Elias was not able to send the letter because he was experiencing chest pains on Monday while at the police department. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue took him to a local hospital. As of Tuesday morning, Elias was still in the hospital and in stable condition, Galvin said.

Elias made $129,750 annual salary as police chief, and according to Solomon, a severance package has not been determined as severance is not guaranteed for department directors, who serve at will.

“Those are worked out on a case-by-case basis with the city manager,” Solomon said.

The city has named Assistant Chief Lenny Burgess acting chief, according to Galvin.

The police chief position itself is not as important as the work of the entire police department, said Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime.

“It’s not about having a chief quickly or waiting months, what’s important for us is the police department and for the officers to reduce crime,” Bien-Aime said.

Councilwoman Carol Keys is confident Elias’ former assistants can do the job for now.

Galvin’s thoughts on Elias’ term as police chief are a mixed bag, he said.

“I gave the chief kudos on the quick arrest” of Fafane Caze, the mother whom North Miami police arrested on charges of torturing her 3-year-old son to death.

But Elias’s seven trips to Haiti, and the way the city funded them by using money from its Law Enforcement Trust Fund, troubled Galvin.

“I did have a problem with the travel to Haiti,” Galvin said.

Elias traveled to Haiti seven times since April 2012 charging the city each time for a total of $14,000. The city used funds from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund, money seized from criminals, to pay for the trips. Police agencies typically use these funds for training, equipment or crime prevention.

“I don’t know what’s going on with that,” Galvin said.

Of the seven trips, only the one Elias took in August did not have the necessary documentation to warrant reimbursement by the city, Johnson determined. He said the other trips were valid.

In November, the city ordered Elias to repay it $3,000 for the August trip. Elias told Johnson he was there to provide security for Mayor Lucie Tondreau, who was on a private vacation, and to teach Haitian police about community policing over a two-week period.

The U.S. State Department, however, said North Miami was not involved in its efforts to train police officers in Haiti. Tondreau did not return several calls from the Herald on Tuesday.

Galvin said he was unsure if Elias repaid the city.

Keys did not want to comment about the former police chief, but said the next one should come from within the department.

“Police departments are like the military, people should be rewarded for their service,” Keys said.

Elias, who is Haitian-American, joined the North Miami police department in 2010 as assistant police chief. In 2011 he was promoted to police chief.

Related stories from Miami Herald